Entertainment law as a practice, involves issues such as intellectual property (including copyrights and trademarks), contracts, business, employment, labor practices, taxation, immigration, and litigation. Entertainment law may not be wholly defined but the practice of this law can be complex and ever-changing as the media landscape evolves over time. In a digital age, entertainment lawyers are needed more than ever to provide the support that entertainers require to survive any rumors and gossip that remain omnipresent on tabloid websites.
Entertainment lawyers will primarily focus on one or two forms of entertainment as there are a variety of norms specific to each industry. For example, music industry lawyers would become involved with copyrights and intellectual property, while television and film industry lawyers would focus on issues related to development, financing, production, and distribution. Specializations within the field include film, theater, music, television and radio, digital usage, and publishing. Entertainment lawyers can either be transaction based which focuses on writing and negotiating entertainment contracts, or litigation based which entails resolving disputes through lawsuits and the processes of mediation and arbitration.
This practice of law is one that involves tasks such as drafting and negotiating development and production contracts, enabling and negotiating distribution deals, financing agreements for sponsorships, loans, grants, and other investments, preparing agreements for clients such as appearance and location releases, and reviewing contracts and other legal documents as to their legality in the business sense. Entertainment lawyers are unique in that they deal with not only legal questions but also pitches and budgets for films, television series, apps, and other projects. What makes this form of law interesting is that it can entail attending events such as premieres and awards shows. Some lawyers who practice in the field may be personally invested in their duties as they might be musicians or artists themselves adding an element of understanding and experience that other lawyers may not possess.
Entertainment lawyers can work in various roles including acting as a counsel, talent manager, and confidant to celebrities and entertainers. They often sign nondisclosure agreements that require them to not discuss the private affairs of the clients that they represent, which can be deemed a form of publicity. This can be defined as an individual’s right to the commercialization of their name, likeness, and characterizations of themselves. Advertisements can use celebrities and entertainers in their commercials but only once they have obtained their consent. Litigation can arise over misappropriation of their identity. This also applies to the estates of the given celebrities upon their passing and executors of such estates who can sue for any unauthorized use of the deceased’s image for commercial purposes.
Finding an entertainment lawyer involves factors such as their expertise, experience, cost, any related conflicts of interest, and references. Clients would want to investigate whether their choice of lawyer fits their specific needs and background. Databases such as StarPolish exist to assist in the search for an appropriate lawyer who helps clients find music industry lawyers and the American Bar Association’s Forum on the Entertainment and Sports Industries. Networking with colleagues can also be a good tool for finding a lawyer tailored to individual needs. Advertisements in industry publications such as Billboard magazine can serve as resources as well.